Nicole Cooke calls for women's sport to have equal coverage on BBC

By Gareth Lewis
BBC Wales Sports News correspondent

image captionNicole Cooke says lack of coverage means so many female sporting role models are 'invisible'

Former Olympic cycling champion Nicole Cooke has called on the BBC to give the same amount of coverage to women's sport as it does to men's.

Cooke cited the example of the US where the law requires equal funding for male and female university sport.

"We could do the same with TV time. If the BBC is paid for by the public, then maybe equality there could be brought in," she said.

The BBC said about 1,000 hours of women's sport was broadcast every year.

BBC Wales has learned that millions of pounds of Lottery cash will be made available in April to encourage under-represented groups, including women and girls, to take up sport.

Figures from the Women's Sport and Fitness Foundation suggest just 5% of media coverage in the UK is devoted to women's sport.

Sport Wales statistics show only 33% of girls take part in sport frequently compared to 44% of boys.

There is also a marked drop in girls' participation and enjoyment once they start secondary school.

Cooke, the 2008 Beijing gold medallist, was scathing about the portrayal of female sports, despite women having won 36% of Team GB's medals at the 2012 London Olympics.

media captionThe BBC said about 1,000 hours of women's sport was broadcast every year

"There are some fantastic athletes and some fantastic performances in many sports, but the biggest issue for women's sport is media coverage," she said.

"I think young girls who are active and who play sport will always be asking where they want to get to, and what their ambition is.

"There is a very obvious lack of women role models and that is because they are invisible.

"There are lots of female athletes out there achieving great things, but there aren't the role models to aspire to like there are on the men's side. That can be addressed and would have a very big impact on giving youngsters who are thinking about a future in competitive sport or just playing sport to keep going."

The former cycling world champion also pointed a finger at sports governing bodies for not pushing the profile of female sport hard enough.

Cooke had her own run-ins with cycling's authorities when she was prevented from riding in women's races despite being a highly talented youngster and has also been highly critical of what she calls the "crumbling" of professional women's road racing.

While Cooke calls for change at the top, her former school - Brynteg in Bridgend - has taken a different approach in conjunction with the local council, through what they have called a "girls' power programme".

The school has relaxed rules on PE kit, tried to let girls take part in friendship groups, held talks on self-esteem and given girls control over what they do in PE classes.

On the day BBC Wales visited a year 9 class was hammering pads and gloves in a no-holds-barred self-defence class.

image copyrightPA
image captionNicole Cooke with her gold medal following her victory in the women's road race at the 2008 Beijing Olympics

The school has also acquired around £30,000-worth of grants to refurbish an old gymnasium and changing rooms to include TV screens, sound system, mirrors and hair driers.

A "networking group" of girls was given £800 to in-effect run their own PE lessons and is now also applying for charitable status to raise further funds.

The BBC said it was committed to covering a wide range of women's sports and was proud of "our audience offer across TV, radio and online".

"We broadcast around 1,000 hours of women's sport every year on BBC television, meaning almost 20% of our coverage is dedicated to women's sport," said a spokesperson.

'Huge range'

"In 2013, we delivered over 40 live commentaries of women's sport including cricket, rugby, wheelchair basketball, football, golf, tennis on Radio 5 live and 5 live sports extra.

"In addition to live commentary the BBC provides comprehensive daily news across a huge range of women's sports via the BBC Sport website."

The BBC said last year its sport website published more than 1,000 articles about 40 different women's sports.

Cooke retired from cycling in 2013 at the age of 29 and is currently studying for an MBA at Cardiff University.

She is also writing her autobiography, which is scheduled to be published in the summer of 2014.

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